It is one week before my 33rd birthday, a year when I’ll be the age of Jesus of Nazareth when he died. Golly, he was young.
And he was old.
This summer I introduced my book club to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. An author who is more appropriately human in his literature than most best-sellers I’ve read.
I learned of Foer through my Messianic friends who gave me the movie, Everything is Illuminated, starring Elijah Wood (YES, please see this movie based on Foer’s first novel). However, the humor and hope of Everything is Illuminated did not prepare me for the depth of grief Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (ELIC) would offer.
ELIC was the best story I’ve come across in facing the terror of September 11, without cliche, sentiment or sputtering revenge. ELIC gave this American tragedy of my coming-0f-age years the dignity I’ve been hunting for.
Foer walks us through the way all tragedy is multi-generational in gestation and multi-generational in its aftermath.
The day our country endured these attacks was also 11 days before I would become engaged to Dale Fincher, it was five days before my 22 birthday. I was attending my first semester of seminary at Talbot School of Theology. I was bright-eyed about my future, as were my colleagues, predominantly male students destined to pastor churches across America.
The helplessness and personal, vicious vows we all took that day, vows to attack, vows to protect, are all wrapped into the life of Foer’s novel.
ELIC showed me the tragedy in its proper perspective, through the eyes of a young child, Oskar, a boy who tells the story of his father’s death in the World Trade Centers. We watch him as he finds permission to greive through doing, inventing and promising.
At ELIC’s end I cried wet, helping tears. I felt an invitation to weep and I felt proud to give in.
My husband looked up from his work to see me sitting in our cabin with tears running into my lap. I didn’t want to explain. I didn’t want to talk at all because it would destroy that sacred moment.
I only wanted to bless this man’s story, this tragedy that will live on for years and years. I wanted to respect the pain enough to weep.
Eleven years after 9/11, coming upon another epoch of my little journey, I’m noticing more about human weakness in myself than I ever saw at 23. Vulnerability is linked to the goodness of being appropriately human.
Today I spent bundled against the storm that crossed the Colorado mountains in my husband’s Jeep. When the road got tedious I pulled out A Heart for Freedom and read about the Chinese world on the eve of Tiananmen Square’s massacre. My husband navigated our Rubicon across passes while my son watched Dumbo over and over in the back seat.
I thought of America where we don’t need permits to have children or to climb mountains. I thought of my family’s freedoms to travel and read inflammatory literature, words like “Perfect love casts out fear.” I thought of our freedom to be at peace and to be broken in whatever generational sins plague our souls.
I thought of Jesus who never saw these mountains and never lived beyond this year of mine that is just beginning.
At Wheeler lake we hiked up to let the waterfall mist us. I filled my lungs with gratitude and whooped it to the canyon walls.